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NTBA rule change opens door for girls

Kymora Johnson of the Charlottesville Cavaliers is honored

Kymora Johnson of the Charlottesville Cavaliers is honored with her team during a WNBA game between the New York Liberty and the Tulsa Shock at Madison Square Garden in New York on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015. Photo Credit: Steven Ryan

Kymora Johnson has inspired change.

The Charlottesville Cavaliers were disqualified from a tournament earlier this month when officials with the National Travel Basketball Association ruled the team of boys was not allowed to play with Johnson, a 10-year-old girl, on the roster.

But in a news release Thursday, NTBA president John Whitley said his organization has decided to change the rule that prompted the disqualification.

Whitley said that the rule change, which will take effect in 2016, "addresses what many felt was an overly harsh punishment for the Cavaliers' decision to play Kymorah Johnson in the boys national championship."

Whitley also said that "the NTBA has not yet made any final decisions regarding whether or not it will allow mixed-gender teams at our national championships."

"I was really surprised," New York Liberty forward Tina Charles said Friday about the disqualification. "Because again, not until high school is when things are usually regulated. Girls play with their girls high school team, and boys play with their boys high school team. At this point, it's all about having fun and seeing if you really enjoy and love the game. The camaraderie of being on a team. I do believe boys make you better, make you stronger, make you tougher in everything. So to take that from her, I didn't think it was fair."

Liberty team officials stepped in and offered to make up for the team's disqualification. Johnson and the rest of the Cavaliers were honored at halftime during the Liberty's game against the Tulsa Shock on Aug. 15.

After the game, Johnson, from Charlottesville, Virginia, and her team played a five-on-five game on the Madison Square Garden floor.

Before the team's disqualification, the rule stated: "If any team is found playing with an ineligible player during any game, the entire team will be disqualified from the tournament."

The rule has been changed to: "If any team is found playing with an ineligible player during any game, penalties shall be imposed by the NTBA in its reasonable discretion, and may include disqualification of the entire team from the tournament. Among other things, the NTBA may take into account: (i) whether or not the team gained a material competitive advantage through the ineligible player's participation; (ii) whether or not the ineligible player's participation endangered other players; and (iii) any other unique circumstances to the ineligible player's participation."

The news release also stated this is "simply our first step in addressing this episode in a manner that ensures safe and competitive competition among all ages and genders."

"I just think policy saves lives," Charles said. "Changing policy will save lives in more ways than just the literal. You know, as far as allowing someone to have a dream, someone to be able to play with others. It's all about opportunity."


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